Canadian Challenge open race a stepping stone for Alberta musher

By Chelsea Laskowski
February 21, 2014 - 12:00pm

A lifelong desire to get into sled dog racing turned into reality for Jennifer Campeau when her family moved to Alberta almost two years ago.

It started as a family activity with her twin 11-year-old daughters and husband Jason, training in the mountains around Okotoks, Alta.

Campeau then competed in the Eagle Cap Extreme in Oregon, where she sprinted 31 miles for two days in a row, sleeping in a hotel bed each night.

The next step for her was to compete in the open dog race in the Canadian Challenge, which kicked off in Prince Albert. The 115-kilometre (km) race was much closer to roughing it than that last race.

“You were going 50 miles, sleeping out for three hours and then you kept going. So it was fun, it was new. And it was the first night I had ever run at night alone,” Campeau explained.

She considered this race a test to see how she felt about longer races, since usually her family camps along with her on night rides.

In the long run, Campeau said she hopes to move up to bigger races like the Iditarod within three or four years.

Along with Stijn Bouckenooghe from Belgium, she started what turned into an almost 12-hour journey from Prince Albert up to Anglin Lake, and looping back around to Elk Ridge.

That evening was a positive experience for her first night race.

“I saw the most beautiful display of Northern Lights out there, going across the lake, leaving from Anglin Lake. So I had a great ride, it was a lot of fun,” she said.

The terrain was different from Campeau’s usual ride back home.

“We train right in the mountains, so we will go up steep, steep inclines a couple of miles long - you feel like the hill are never gonna stop. And then you have quite long downhills. And somebody said Saskatchewan was flatter but there were quite a few smaller hills, but a lot of them,” she said.

As for weather, Campeau said it was actually almost too hot for most of it.

Over those first 15 miles, it was warm enough that her dogs’ feet were punching through the snow instead of running over hard pack.

She managed to get through the race with all of her dogs injury-free, and in first place.

“It was just really rewarding to cross the finish line and know that I had done well and my dogs were all healthy and actually still wanted to keep going,” Campeau said.

Her race was quite a bit different from the – 30 degree Celsius temperatures her husband Jason had to endure in the 12-dog portion of the Canadian Challenge.

With 517 km to travel in total, he was in the last stretch of the race, hanging onto third place well ahead of Gerry Walker.

After her race, Jennifer and extended family members stayed in La Ronge and were ready to cheer Jason on.

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On Twitter: @chelsealaskowsk

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